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Headache Disorders: Understanding Light Triggers

If you suffer with migraines or other headache disorders you typically already know that light can affect your condition. It’s almost impossible to avoid light unless you stay in bed with the covers over your head every single day. That’s not happening, so let’s understand how light triggers affect headache disorders.

Woman blocking sun because of light sensitivity.

The “Dread of Light”

Photophobia is the reason so many people suffer from migraines. The word comes from the Greek, (photo = light, phobia = dread or fear). Photophobia causes discomfort or pain due to light.

The more light, the more pain. The light can be from a myriad of sources. These include the sun which nourishes all life on earth, televisions, computers, fluorescent lights, smartphones and tablets, LED light bulbs, and even the glare from snow in winter. Blue green light causes more photophobia, and that is exactly what many of us stare at while working at computers all day or trying to relax at night with a TV program.

Besides migraines, photophobia is also associated with tension headaches and cluster headaches. 80% of people who get migraines have photophobia.

What’s the Problem?

Photophobia is a neurological issue that is caused by a problem with communication between the receptors in our eyes and our brain. That part of our eyes that transmits photophobia to the brain is not the same as that which transmits vision. In fact, people who are blind can suffer from photophobia.

A study by Harvard completed in 2010 found a pathway from the eyes to certain areas of the brain that are active during migraines. It seems light can make the pain worse by activating nerve cells in the brain. They also found unique cells in our eyes called intrinsically retinal ganglion cells. They are more sensitive to blue-green light.

Filtering the Light

Scientists have developed glasses that can filter out the blue-green light making photophobia worse. It is known as F-41.

If migraine sufferers wear spectacles with the F-41 filter, it can reduce the incidence of migraines without any side effects. The best part is these glasses can filter the light regardless of the cause of a person’s photophobia.

Look scrupulously to find glasses with the F-41 tint but be sure they cover your face completely. Wrap-around glasses work well, but others can too.

Schedule a Consultation in Tacoma, WA

Contact Puget Sound Neurology at (253) 284-4488 for additional therapy and treatments if you believe you are suffering from a headache disorder triggered by photophobia.

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